Tsipras Handed Another Defeat in Greek Local Elections

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Greece’s New Democracy (ND) conservative opposition party won big in local elections on Sunday, capturing 11 out of 13 regions according to the provisional results. The New Democracy party continued the trend it set in the EE elections last weekend where it won 33% of the vote, almost 10 percentage points more than the ruling Syriza party. Following the EU election, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged the heavy defeat of his party and the writing on the wall. He called for snap national elections and the probable date will be 7 July.

The Syriza party was not expected to be as soundly beaten in either the EU contest, or the two rounds of local elections held recently. After announcing the snap elections last week, Tsipras said he believed this past weekend’s local elections in Greece would be a vote of confidence on his government’s policies and actions. The fact that yesterday brought on another wave of conservative victories indicates the Greek political landscape is in flux again. Tsipras had been expected to become the first Greek prime minister to finish out a full term in three decades. By all indicators right now, it doesn’t appear that he will.

 

European Powers Recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s Leader

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Fourteen of the European Union’s member states stepped forward today and officially recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the provisional president of that country. Other EU nations such as Poland and Sweden have indicated they will also recognize Guaidó, increasing the pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro to told new presidential elections and bring the current political crisis to an end. The EU move comes after Maduro ignored an EU deadline to call for new elections by this past weekend. Europe wasted no time in joining the United States in its efforts to bring about a leadership change in Caracas.

Even though Europe appears to be relatively unified on the issue, there are a handful of nations straddling the fence. Greece refuses to condemn Nicolas Maduro or his government and instead has called for a “political dialogue” to avoid a civil war in Venezuela. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has long been an admirer of Hugo Chavez, and the political model he created. Italy and Ireland are two EU member nations that also oppose recognizing Guaidó, yet this does not signal support for Maduro and his government. Officials in Rome and Dublin are more concerned with setting a dangerous precedent by recognizing a self-proclaimed leader. Italy’s objections were even enough to block a planned EU statement recognizing Guaidó.

Despite the minor differences between some European nations on the semantics of handling Guaidó, Maduro, and the Venezuelan crisis as a whole, the battle lines have already been clearly drawn along familiar geopolitical, and ideological positions. The West, following the lead of the United States, is pushing for free elections, and a new leader in Caracas. Russia, China, and a handful of smaller nations around the world led by left wing, socialist leaders, or are anti-US in nature, have sided with Maduro. These positions will become more significant now that it seems the crisis is moving into a geopolitical phase now. International pressure could become the opposition’s most powerful weapon in the coming weeks.

Thursday 8 March, 2018 Update: The EU’s Vulnerable Southern Flank

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The Italian general elections on Sunday ended up as a triumph for Italy’s populist parties. The Northern League and Five Star Movement (M5S) were the major winners. Both parties campaigned on anti-establishment, anti-immigration, and anti-European Union platforms. A new government has yet to be formed and it could be some time yet before that happens. However, that government will almost assuredly be staunchly anti-European Union in sentiment, as well as in deed.

Italy has long been considered to be one of the economic problem children of the European Union, along with Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The growing debt and economic vulnerability of of the Southern European EU members brought about an era of austerity from Lisbon to Athens. Austerity was more than enough for Southern European nations to contend with. But then came the European migrant crisis which saw continuous waves of African, and Middle Eastern migrants washing up on Southern European shorelines.

Italy was arguably the hardest hit. Austerity, and the migrant crisis combined to bring about a political shift in Italy. In recent years, voters have moved away from mainstream political parties, and tossed their lot in with populist parties that are opposed to essentially everything that the European Union supports. Brussels, and Rome appear to be fated towards a clash down the road and the EU is not waiting for the new government to form before it fires the first shot.

Yesterday, the European Commission urged Italy to increase economic reforms. The nation’s recovery from the 2008 crisis continues, yet at a sluggish pace. The commission also cited ‘excessive economic imbalances’ present in Italy. To be fair, the commission’s report also pointed to Cyprus and Croatia as having similar problems, yet their inclusion serves to highlight the fact that the EU’s southern flank is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

This increases the scrutiny which will be placed on Rome in the coming months. The new Italian government will not be as receptive and compliant to EU ‘economic suggestions’ as Greece and Alex Tsipras’ government was in 2015. More to the point, Rome will not submit itself to the wishes of Brussels, and the veiled threats of Angela Merkel like Athens did. The EU feels it would be in its best interests to have a stake in determining Italy’s economic policies for the foreseeable future. How far Brussels is willing to go to keep its influence alive remains to be seen?

What will Italy’s reaction be to increased EU bullying? An Italexit could have severe consequences for Brussels and signal the final nail in the coffin for the great European Experiment.

 

Tuesday 15 November, 2016 Update: Obama In Greece

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With President Obama’s final trip to Europe underway, the reality is setting in that this trip is greatly overshadowed by the results of last Tuesday’s US Presidential Election. The reality that Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States has dropped a heavy blanket of uncertainty across the continent. Try as they might, many Europeans do not know what to make of Donald Trump. His campaign promises and the lack of detailed policies have unnerved European leaders and citizens alike. On the surface, Trump appears to be a leader prepared to disconnect the US from Europe in many regards. His position on issues such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis and debt relief for nations like Greece appear to contrast sharply with those of many European leaders. His insistence that America’s NATO partners pay their fair share towards defense leads many on the other side of the Pond to wonder just how solidly a Trump administration will support the alliance in a time of crisis.

Personally, I do not think Europeans have much to worry about. Yet that is another post for another time.

As it stands right now, Obama’s farewell trip has transformed from a promulgation of his foreign policy legacy to a mission of reassurance. The first stop was Greece where the main talking point has been Greek debt relief and not Trump. Obama is expected to throw his support behind “meaningful debt relief” for Athens. In 2015 the EU flirted with the prospect of a possible ‘Grexit.’ At one point it seemed more probable than not that Greece would withdraw or be removed from the EU and abandon the Euro. Fortunately for Europe, Alexis Tsipras did not drive his nation off the edge of the cliff and into the unknown. He begrudgingly accepted the stringent and somewhat humiliating austerity terms offered up to set Greece on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, Greece’s economy is not yet sustainable and will not be without further debt relief.

Tsipras is hoping that Obama can help persuade Germany to move forward with additional debt relief for Greece. The Greek Prime Minister has made debt relief a priority, calling for a new agreement by the end of 2016. His popularity at home has plummeted from enforcing measures he once swore would never have his support. Additional debt relief might be his only realistic chance to avoid being swept out of office at some point in 2017, and ironically, Obama is the last card he has left to play.

When President Obama arrives in Berlin on Wednesday Greece will be one of the subjects on the list. However, with the prospect of Donald Trump looking as if it will dominate talks between Obama and Merkel, there is no guarantee that additional debt relief for Greece will be discussed in depth or acted upon in the future.

Friday, 21 August 2015 Update: Political Drama In Greece, Tension In Korea, Global Markets Plunge

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August had been a relatively quiet month up until a couple of days ago. As we move towards the end of the month, things are happening across the globe. In the space of the last thirty six hours or so, North Korea and the ROK have traded artillery fire and tensions are on the rise, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has resigned and called for new elections, and China’s economic slowdown is beginning to have a negative effect on world markets. Judging by what we have seen this week, we could be in for a dangerous September.

Tsipras Resigns

For the third time since January, Greek voters are returning to the ballot box. Do not be fooled, Alexis Tsipras’s resignation and call for new elections were not made out of a sense of obligation or an admittance of defeat. They are components of a very shrewd political maneuver. When the third bailout was passed by the Greek parliament in mid-July, one-third the Syriza party’s representatives voted against the bill or abstained. Now, the Syriza party is in the midst of a rebellion and Tsipras needs to gain a new mandate. He is turning to the people to extract him from a very tenuous position and provide him with political cover. Tsipras is banking on the new elections neutralizing the radical left wing of his party. That wing has made his life complicated since July, opposing him almost constantly. Tsipras appears determined to move himself from the radical left to the center and he is using popular will as a political tool to help him get there.

Tension & Threats In Korea

The world has become desensitized to North Korean threats and claims. The regular stream of bold talk coming out of Pyongyang is bolder today, however. Following an exchange of artillery fire with South Korea and the resumption of US/South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang has announced that its forces along the DMZ are in a “quasi-state of war” and will prepare for battle. The North has, in fact, started preparations to test fire short and mid-range ballistic missiles but there have been no concrete signs of preparation for military action against the South.

The situation appears to be following the same line that others before it have. The North Koreans ramp up their rhetoric in an attempt to stoke military tensions on the Korean peninsula in a bid to show its populace that it is confronting the enemy to the south. Kim Jong Un has done this before and predictably will do it again in the future. The real danger here is the possibility that an accident or incident might lead to a military confrontation that neither side wants.

China’s Economic Woes Go Global

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Economists, market analysts, and financial experts around the world have been talking about the economic problems facing China. Last month’s successive devaluations of the yuan signaled that the problems were going to worsen before long. Data was released confirming that China’s manufacturing activity has slowed to its lowest levels since 2009. Global markets were thrown into panic mode almost immediately. Stock markets in Asia were the first to feel the hurt, followed by Europe and then Wall Street. The Dow plunged 531 points today, falling into correction territory. The two day sell off in New York has erased practically all of the 2015 gains for all three US indexes.

The ramifications of a weakened Chinese economy are continuing to play out. Investors are spooked for the moment, though, and it is fair to say that further bad economic news from China will continue to have negative consequences on Wall Street, in London, Tokyo and elsewhere. How these economic problems will translate into the geo-political arena also remains to be seen.

*Note- The third part of the Desert Shield series has been lost. I deleted it from my hard drive my mistake. I will rewrite and post it sometime before Labor Day. In the meantime, Sunday night I’ll post a look at the coming arms race in the Persian Gulf.*